b.09 Jan 1751/52 Rhinebeck (town), Dutchess, New York, United States
d.14 Apr 1818 Rhinebeck (town), Dutchess, New York, United States
m. 27 Apr 1737
m. Bef 1775
Facts and Events
George Ring (1752 - 1818) was a tanner at Rhinebeck, Dutchess County, New York. Records from his lifetime use two different spellings for his given name. Church records use the German spelling G-e-o-r-g (pronounced GAY-org), while public records use the English spelling G-e-o-r-g-e. These practices reflect the gradual decline of the German language at Rhinebeck, a trend that accelerated after the American Revolution, when the children and grandchildren of Palatine immigrants had access to new opportunities in business and politics. The life stories of George and his younger brother Johannes exemplify these changes.
George was baptized at Rhinebeck in January 1752. The family bible uses the exact date 26 January, while church records use the date 25 January. George was named for his maternal grandfather George Deter or for his sponsor George Adam Zufeld.
Marriage and Family, 1775-1795
George married Anna Maria Eckert about 1775. They joined the communion list of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of St. Peter the Apostle as a married couple in 1788 and their children were baptized there between 1776 and 1797. George is absent from most public records during these years, even those relating to the American Revolution. With other members of his family, he refused to sign the Articles of Association in June/July 1775, but while his father and elder brother were watched by the local committee of safety as suspected loyalists and another brother became a patriot, we do not know what George was doing.
Farm and Tannery, 1795-1818
According to Rhinebeck Town Historian Nancy Kelly, George Ring occupied a mill on lands owned by the Schuyler family, heirs to Rhinebeck founder Henry Beekman. He later built a house there and converted the mill into a tannery for the production of leather. In 1795, George commissioned a map of this property, now part of the DAR Collection at the Starr Library. The house can also be seen on an 1802 map of the Dutchess County turnpike road from Salisbury to Radcliff's Ferry. Road records of 1798 describe the property as somewhat isolated, with a "wasteland" lying between the Ring house and the manor houses of Robert Sands and Robert Schuyler. A map from that same year shows a nearby crossroads, where the Schuyler family sponsored a general store and a north-bound road led directly to the Church of St. Peter the Apostle. It is unclear when the mill became a tannery, but it is mentioned in the will of George Ring (1818), along with the house and farm. Today, this site, still known as The Tannery, is located north of Route 308 between New York 9G and Pilgrim's Progress Road (see Google Maps).
By the 1790s, New York City merchants were working with rural tanners to produce leather on a large scale. Tanners purchased hides and currying oils from the merchants on a commission basis. Once the tanning process was completed, the leather merchants would work with tanners to sell the finished leather. The leather trade was based in a section of the city called the Swamp along Jacob, Gold, Ferry, Spruce, and Frankfort streets, where two early pioneers were Comfort and Joseph Sands, brothers of the Rhinebeck proprietor Robert Sands. By 1809, the merchant Jacob Lorillard started to contract with tanners to produce leather at fixed rates, relieving the tanner of financial risk.
George almost certainly did business with leather merchants like the Sands brothers and Lorillard, allowing him to build a thriving business that made him a relatively wealthy man. Except for a newspaper notice of 1817 that names Jacob Lorillard as agent in the sale of property by George's son John G. Ring, there is no direct record of these business relationships, but George apparently ran the tannery on this larger scale. One measure of his success can be found at the Evangelical Lutheran Church of St. Peter the Apostle, where George and his brother Johannes were among the top donors to subscription lists for the minister in 1799 and 1815.
Tanners like George used a four-stage process that required at least two years to produce finished leather. First, the tanner cleaned the raw hides and soaked them in vats containing a lime-and-water solution. Next he scraped the hides with a beaming knife and whetstone to smooth the surface. After washing the hides again, the tanner put them in wooden vats or pits, covering them with layers of oak bark and water for 12-18 months. Finally, the tanner dried the hides in special lofts where they pounded them with mallets to make them flexible, or rubbed them with oils and stones to make the finer varieties of soft and supple leather.
This process allowed the tanner free time to do farm work or practice another trade, but it also tied up his capital for extended periods, making him vulnerable to financial risk and the loss of credit needed to keep operations running. This part of a tanner's life can be glimpsed in a brief notice that appeared in newspapers at Rhinebeck, Poughkeepsie, and New York City in April 1811 -- the published apology of George's nephew David P. Traver, stating that he "never had any foundation for asserting that the said George Ring was Insolvent or likely to become so." The apology demonstrates how eager George was to protect his financial reputation up and down the Hudson.
Death and Legacy, 1818
George died of dropsy at Rhinebeck on 14 April 1818. His will was proved the following month. Anna Maria survived her husband by 19 years. After George died, she continued to live in the family home with her sons Peter, Philip, William, and Conrad. George and Anna Maria are buried in the St. Peter's Lutheran Church cemetery.
All but one of the surviving children eventually left Rhinebeck. George G. Ring and David A. Ring left early in the nineteenth century, with David settling at Charleston, South Carolina. Lewis moved to Hyde Park, where he established himself as a successful physician. Peter and Philip inherited their father's farm and tannery, but competition from upstate tanneries made it increasingly unprofitable and both men moved upstate before 1850. Anna Maria and her husband moved to New York City about 1824. Youngest son Conrad joined his brother David at Charleston in the 1840s.